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Communication from the Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts to Members of the General Court on the Definition of Marriage

TO: Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Members of the Massachusetts General Court

RE: Marriage Affirmation & Protection Amendment, H. 3190

DATE: June 2, 2003

You have faced difficult choices in dealing with the budget deficit. We do not envy your role in trying to make financial ends meet without forgetting "the least, the last, and the lost", to which we referred in our recent pastoral statement on the budget. From our vantage point, it generally appears that you have tried to do your best in impossible circumstances.

Now another issue confronts you--the looming decision of the Supreme Judicial Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that many anticipate could redefine legal marriage in the Commonwealth. You have before you a proposed constitutional amendment that reaffirms marriage as the union between one man and one woman. We urge you to give this amendment an affirmative vote in the upcoming joint session so that, ultimately, the people can vote on it.

Our position on this issue is rooted in a profound regard for the sexual union between a man and a woman. Only this union bears the natural capacity to beget human life in a setting that provides both a mother and a father for the child. This union is called the "first society" because both halves of society are always represented in the home and must continue to co-exist, even when no children are involved. Thus, the importance of this union to the smooth continuation and the general stability of the larger society, especially its young, is unequaled. No other private relationship possesses such public significance or enjoys such a time-proven record of benefiting society. It is this public character that explains history's regard for the union between a man and a woman as marriage.

If the court in Goodridge redefines marriage as a commitment between two adults regardless of gender, then we expect serious consequences. The state will be forced to abandon the presumption that having a mother and a father in the home is ideal for children, and must then endorse the view that children do not need both a father and a mother. State policymakers will become more vulnerable to legal challenges seeking official approval of a host of other "intimate" relationships. The employment and other social policies of private institutions will have to change, or face discrimination lawsuits, if they recognize on moral grounds only the union between one man and one woman as marriage.

Our position on marriage and our position in favor of the marriage amendment have nothing to do with hatred for or disregard of any human being. Nor does our affirmation of marriage dictate the unjust denial of public services or material benefits to unmarried persons. Our unwillingness to endorse other forms of sexual relationships as marriage does not preclude us from recognizing the dignity of individuals and the value of chaste friendships outside of marriage. Justice demands that we uphold the equal value of all individuals at the same time we uphold the distinct and irreplaceable value of marriage between a man and a woman.

We are aware that some persons, coming before the legislature and purporting to speak from authority as Catholic theologians and as clergy, have misrepresented the Church's position on marriage. These persons have erroneously claimed that support for the amendment is inconsistent with Catholic teaching.

These persons were not authorized to represent the Catholic Church, or its official teachers, the Bishops. The Bishops, not theologians, are officially responsible for discerning, upholding, and communicating Catholic doctrine. The Bishops may delegate certain duties, but they are the primary teachers ultimately responsible for the content of Catholic teaching.

Before this legislature, the Bishops speak through the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) and its staff as the Bishops' delegate. None of the persons mischaracterizing Catholic teaching on marriage sought or received permission from the Bishops or the MCC to address the legislature in any official capacity or as representatives of any Catholic institution.

Anyone has the right to speak before the legislature. Yet this right is abused when exercised in a manner wrongly leading others to believe that the speaker is acting in an official capacity for the Catholic Church, its Bishops or its institutions. We regret any confusion caused by these persons and their conduct before the legislature.

You will remain in our prayers.

Bishop Richard G. Lennon, Apostolic Administrator, Archdiocese of Boston

Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, Diocese of Worcester

Bishop Thomas L. Dupre, Diocese of Springfield

Bishop-Elect George W. Coleman, Diocese of Fall River

Massachusetts Catholic Conference
West End Place, Suite 5
150 Staniford Street, Boston MA 02114-2511
(p) 617-367-6060
(f) 617-367-2767


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